Who hasn’t been taken in by clickbait? You’re scrolling through Facebook, and all of a sudden you see it—a headline that makes bold, vague claims about what you’re about to click on. You’ll never believe it. You’ll be shocked. You will never look at this thing the same way again. When you get to the site, you find that not only do you believe it, you’re not even interested in it, much less shocked. You look at everything in exactly the same way you did before.
But all that is changing. In August, Facebook announced that its newest algorithm tweak would decrease the number of clickbait stories that appear in News Feeds. Facebook said the move was intended to give users more of what they prefer to see, including news stories from reputable outlets and the posts of friends and family.
For marketers, this change hasn’t been a disaster—but it is something to which they’ll have to pay close attention going forward for several reasons. First, Facebook has always been hyperfocused on its consumers, and marketers can take away a few good lessons about how to best deliver pleasing, relevant content to their own customers from the company’s move. But there are also more practical ramifications.
Click, and bait.
Headlines have become an important staple of how brands get attention for their content on social media. Now more than ever, marketers have to make sure to use them in the most effective ways possible.
Facebook developers have explained that their anti-clickbait algorithm will rely largely on certain pre-determined keywords and strings of text in article headlines. Even legitimate articles with clever titles could get caught up in the dragnet. A satirical article in The Atlantic lamented that Gay Talese’s classic story, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” would have to be rewritten to “Frank Sinatra Is a Complicated Person (and Unfortunately Our Reporter Did Not Go Speak to Him)” to meet Facebook’s exacting standards for absolute truth-telling and fair expectations-setting. (The New York Post’s “Headless Body in Topless Bar” could remain as is.)
The Atlantic makes a fair point, but one that is perhaps overstated. The truth is that content marketers and digital publishers were featuring clickbait-esque headlines on purpose. In a world of ever-increasing ways to access information and learn about a topic, some marketers sought to attract readers in the same way sensationalist sites were—by creating titles designed to fool readers into clicking. That’s going to have to stop, and that’s not a bad thing. Brands need to engender loyalty from their customers, not annoy them or break their trust with cheap headlines that promise a payoff they can’t deliver.
Here’s the good news: Facebook notes that “if a page stops posting clickbait headlines, their posts will stop being impacted by this change.” In other words, if marketers who had sinned in the past start delivering quality headlines and articles, Facebook’s algorithm will not weed out their content.
Diversify the Platforms
For content marketers who can’t or wont change their ways, Facebook’s announcement may serve as an important reminder to diversify the platforms on which they publish. Many marketers have already found that platforms such as LinkedIn serve their purposes better, and some 91 percent of B2B marketers use the career-oriented social network for marketing instead of Facebook.
But no matter where content is distributed, quality is always the most important attribute. Successful content has a mission, whether that is creating brand awareness, spreading knowledge through thought leadership, or maintaining brand loyalty. Facebook’s evolving algorithm is a reminder that content also has to engage, entertain, or inform—or, even better, all three at the same time. Putting the customer first is what makes marketing successful—and if Facebook banning clickbait makes that happen more often, so much the better for everyone.